Posts Tagged With: midnight

The New Who Top Ten: #8

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Number Eight: ‘Midnight’ (2008)

This morning: there’s a waterfall made of sapphires, but you’ll never get to see it. There’s a marooned shuttle in the middle of nowhere, in the thick of a lethal radiated atmosphere. And then the knocking begins…

My children are ambivalent towards ‘Midnight’, largely because they like to know what the Doctor’s fighting against. An invisible entity that paralyses spacecraft, possesses at will, evolves swiftly and kills without thought? Fine, but where are the tentacles? The absence of anything tangible is, of course, the best thing about it: a creature that is unnamed, unseen and about which we still know precisely nothing – save its apparent malevolence – when the credits have rolled. When no information is provided, the mind will fill in the blanks, and all too often, what we visualise is dark and monstrous. (Myself, I’m still thinking about giant invisible chickens.)

Sacrifice

Despite my enthusiasm for Donna, I’m glad she’s not here for this one. It is a story that purposely isolates the Doctor, and the absence of a companion works in its favour. The episode is mostly a one-set affair: a small, self-contained shuttle that the cast are not allowed to leave, because the outside will kill them, which is all well and good until something finds its way in. There is a strong sense of claustrophobia that echoes Night of the Living Dead, although thematically there are nods to Alien and, in particular, a Next Generation episode called ‘Darmok’, in which a simple language barrier almost start a war. It’s the sort of story that could only would have worked with Picard; I suspect Kirk would have just blasted the crap out of them and put his shirt back on.

The whole point of the Living Dead films, of course – particularly the first and third – was that there would inevitably come a point where the terrifying horrors banging on the door would play second fiddle to the monsters inside. In other words, the occupants of the house / underground base / whatever swiftly became their own worst enemy, with infighting and betrayal a far worse prospect, in many ways, than having your flesh ripped. It’s a common scenario. Watching a crisis worsen when people start fighting among themselves holds a kind of universal appeal, and it is perhaps easier to relate to this than it is to a zombie infestation. There’s a scene near the end of Aliens where a sweating, barely alive Sigourney Weaver confronts the treacherous Burke, who has just tried to have her impregnated with a xenomorphic embryo. “I don’t know which species is worse,” she says. “You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

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The fact that ‘Midnight’ echoes these themes is in itself unremarkable, but that this results in such a catastrophic loss of control for the central character is the episode’s key strength. Classic Who had a certain sense of formula about it, in that stories would routinely see the Doctor and his companion(s) land somewhere just as a body turns up, become falsely accused of murder / subterfuge / industrial espionage and then imprisoned. If Davies introduced the psychic paper as a counterpoint, we had surely, by this stage, gone too far the other way, and the ability of Tennant in particular to swan into any situation and command the attention of the entire room was becoming irritating. ‘Midnight’ strips this away to its core by having a group of passengers who ask all the questions we’ve been secretly hoping would be asked all these years and refuse to accept the answers they’re given, not only mistrusting the Doctor but actively planning his assassination just a couple of minutes from the end. It’s theorised that the alien’s influence extends beyond its possession of Mrs Silvestry, and that it is somehow able to affect mood and plant suggestions. Personally, I choose to believe that’s not really the case.

Because ultimately, as a concept, ‘Midnight’ speaks to all of us – and that’s what makes its placement within a Whovian context so striking. The simple setting, strong sense of character development and dialogue-heavy script (more on that in a moment, but suffice to say that this episode may contain more talking than any other episode of Doctor Who in the show’s history) mean that it would be ideally suited for a stage adaptation: indeed, I’m told that they’ve actually done this, removing all references to the Doctor and allowing it to stand alone as a tale of intrigue, suspicion and paranoia. Nonetheless, portraying it as a Tenth Doctor story – particularly a relatively late one, when Tennant is well into his stride – is a clever stunt. The following year, the Doctor would crash-land on a desert planet with a bunch of Londoners, and spend the rest of the episode inexplicably trying to get back home to meet Lee Evans. ‘Planet of the Dead’, whatever Russell T Davies tells you about it being “the last time the Doctor gets to have any fun”, is not exactly Tennant’s finest hour. But watch it back to back with this one, if you can bear it. You’ll see what I mean.

There is a lot of chatter. But there’s more to it than that: dialogue ceases to be a way of communicating information and becomes a writer’s plaything, a tool to be exploited. It’s standard practice in literary circles, but it’s a rare joy when it happens in the likes of Who. The whole episode is about the creature learning language, and Davies does this by having characters repeat lines and then say them in absolute synchronicity, in a series of exchanges that annoyed many but which I found quite dazzling.

There is strong support from the likes of Colin Morgan, as the sulky but intelligent Jethro (his look of despair as the Doctor is about to be thrown out is quite wonderful), as well as David Troughton as Professor Hobbes and Lindsey Coulson as the thoroughly unlikeable Val. Special mention also goes to Lesley Sharp, who is frankly a revelation – fragile and damaged for reasons unknown, and then utterly consumed by evil, with the facial tics and head movements perhaps the only thing even more breathtaking than her capacity for dialogue. But it’s Tennant’s story – and the exhausted, quite ‘different’ Doctor who emerges at the end of the episode, greeting Donna with a silent embrace, is unexpectedly moving. The humility doesn’t last, of course. But while it does, it’s wonderful.

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Cameron’s Episode: ‘Human Nature

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gee, like we couldn’t have seen that one coming

After this evening’s screening of ‘Midnight’…

“Well, I don’t know about you, Josh, but I’ve always found that one really scary.”
“…”
“Did you?”
“I did.”
“You can come out from under the towel now.”
“OK.”
“What’s scary is that we never find out what it was.”
“What’s scary is that we never find out what it was.”
“It just comes out of nowhere.”
“It just comes out of nowhere.”
“Anyway, bedtime.”
“Anyway, bedtime.”
“Josh?”
“Josh?”
“OK, you can stop now.”
“OK, you can stop now.”
“Seriously, stop.”
“Seriously, stop.”
“You’re scaring me!”
“You’re scaring me! No, Daddy, I’ll stop now, I promise.”
“Glad to hear it. Now, go and say goodnight to Mummy.”
“Now, go and say goodnight to Mummy.”

 

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“It’s midnight in the library”

The Doctor was standing on top of a balcony, overlooking a vast metropolis of futuristic-looking buildings that sat beneath a vanilla sky. It could have been anywhere in the universe, but he had Donna Noble with him, which would make it 2008 in real time (2009 in the Whoniverse, but we won’t get into that now). It was eerily quiet.

“You know what?” said the Doctor, after a moment. “This is the biggest library in the universe. So where is everyone? It’s silent.”

Thomas, sitting next to me on the sofa, said “Maybe it’s closed…”

For Thomas, this is a pretty sharp observation. It’s also astute political commentary, not only given the problems we’re having in this country but also coming the same day that a friend of mine informed me of a stunt to save a library in Michigan by staging a book-burning. (Make sure you watch the whole thing. The techniques used therein are somewhat underhand, but it worked, and it is nice to see the Tea Party get a kick up the backside occasionally.)

But I don’t do politics, at least not on this blog. Instead we watched an hour and a half of the Vashta Nerada (which, I’ve just Googled, can be rearranged to form ‘H: Data Save Ran’, which kind of fits with the episode. It has Alex Kingston before she became smug and irritating. It has Miss Evangelista, who gets processed and winds up looking like this:

Which freaked out Joshua no end. It has the usual Moffat preoccupation with interesting-scenes-delivered-through-technology, partly when Cal is speaking with the Doctor through the TV screen, and used to its greatest extent here:
——

MISS EVANGELISTA: Hello? Are you there?

Donna shakes her head in horror.

DOCTOR (whispering): Help her.

DONNA: She’s dead.

DOCTOR: Yeah. Help her.

MISS EVANGELISTA: Hello? Is that the nice woman?

DONNA: Yeah. Hello. Yeah, I’m, I’m… I’m here. You OK?

MISS EVANGELISTA: What I said before, about being stupid. Don’t tell the others, they’ll only laugh.

DONNA: Course I won’t. Course I won’t tell them.

MISS EVANGELISTA: Don’t tell the others, they’ll only laugh…

DONNA: I won’t tell them. I said I won’t.

MISS EVANGELISTA: Don’t tell the others, they’ll only laugh.

DONNA: I’m not going to tell them.

The lights of the neural relay are now blinking.

MISS EVANGELISTA: Don’t tell the others, they’ll only laugh.

RIVER: She’s looping now. The pattern’s degrading.

MISS EVANGELISTA: I can’t think, I…don’t know, I… I… I… Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream.

She keeps repeating those words.

RIVER: Does anybody mind if I…?

She steps to the skeleton and turns off the relay.

DONNA: That was… that was horrible. That was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.
——

I maintain – even four years later – that this is the best scene Moffat’s written for the show, and the Doctor’s hardly in it at all.

So we watched the Doctor snap open the TARDIS doors, and River making kinky jokes about handcuffs (sadly marking, even at this early stage, the beginning of her decline into a sex-obsessed harpy) and another of Moffat’s Villains That Talk Without Moving Their Mouths:

In fairness, the Empty Child was probably speaking behind the mask. And in fairness, Moffat didn’t come up with the Ood, or the Host, or the Cybermen, for that matter, but you can see what I mean. I do love them, because they’re frightfully easy to dub, but they have become a bit of a Thing.

Anyway, the ‘next time’ trailer was for this:

As I recall this episode polarised people, but I confess I’ve always liked it. I always felt it would work well on stage: it has that kind of claustrophobic, dialogue driven compressed violence that is so common in theatre. The characterisation is reasonably strong for a forty-minute science fiction drama, and it’s nice to see the Doctor apparently facing genuine jeopardy for a change without having a companion on hand to save him.

The point of the teaser is just that – to tease – to the extent that the reveal only happens at the very end, if it happens at all. And of course, in ‘Midnight’, there’s nothing to reveal. Inevitably, this disappointed Joshua.

“Oh, but we didn’t see the monster.”
“No, we didn’t.”
“But what is it?”
“Spoilers, sweetie.”
“Please tell me.”
“You’ll have to wait.”
“But please.”
“Oh, all right,” I said, squatting on the floor and pressing the DVD back into its case. “I’ll tell you: I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t know. We never really find out.”
“So we don’t see it at all?”
“…Not really, no.”
“Why not?”
“Because the writers thought it would be more fun that way.”
“Oh,” he said, confused.
“Come on. Time to sleep,” I said, leading them both down the corridor.
“Daddy, wait. Just stop. Turn around.”
“Why?”
“Just do it. Oh, phew. Only one shadow.”
“See, I was right there with that. It was going to be my next joke, and you got there first. Now: into bed,” I said, entering the darkened room. Before adding “Hey! Who turned out the lights!”
“Daddy, stop it.”

He didn’t go to sleep until gone ten. I am bowed down by guilt.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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